27 July 2015


I woke up on Sunday with a bump on my noggin from flipping in a kayak, cuts on my soles from clambering barefoot over pebbled river banks, and incredible soreness in unusual spots like my shoulders and outer thigh muscles.

Saturday was Cellarmaster Max's birthday and he was going to float. He likes to toss my blog phrases back in my face sometimes so we were invited with the acknowledgement that it would mean "giving up a magical unicorn butterfly day." Tyler RSVP'd a firm yes for both of us but then his mom said she was coming into town that day and he opted to go for a ride rather than risk being on the river until dusk. But I was committed. My pride was involved. I didn't even flake when some acquaintances said they were riding the Big Hole Crest. Nope. Floating.

Good job Subaru
Pic courtesy of Andrea
 Andrea and Shannon picked me up and we braved the Pass with two borrowed creek boats strapped to the roof of Andrea's Impreza. She got her river permits in the Park and the ranger handed us a pamphlet about floating the Snake. The stretch we were aiming for, Moose to Wilson, was classified as advanced, with lots of alarming advisories like "fragmented channels, snags, and logjams make for difficult navigation" and "swift current can be dangerous for inexperienced boaters." Don't worry, my friends said, this is directed at the lowest common denominator, and I looked around the GTNP visitor's center at the crush of humanity and felt better. There are indeed idiots amongst us.

Our motley flotilla arranged a shuttle and put in: one driftboat, one raft, two creek boats, one whitewater canoe, and four inner tubes. As my competent friends fiddled with straps and coolers, the bizarre realization dawned on me: I've never been on any sort of watercraft on a river. Yeah, I've paddled and SUP'd and waterskied on lakes before but I've never even tubed on the French Broad, preferring to mock the tubers from shore. My parents were California river rats in the long ago and my dad got into whitewater in WNC but when he suggested teaching me to roll a kayak I heard "trapped upside down underwater" and never again considered river sports.
Could not have asked for a nicer day
I admitted this and everyone laughed gently at me. I got a spot in the driftboat, the driest and steadiest of vessels, and devoured the views as we meandered through the wetlands at the feet of the Tetons. We startled a young bull moose and he splashed across an inlet behind us.

The whole gang!
Pic courtesy of Ashley
Our raucous party stopped regularly to carouse on sand bars and eventually, my nerves soothed by liquid courage, I volunteered to man a creek boat. It was a Corsica, a kayak my dad used to own and love. I remembered a tiny bit from paddling around Laurel Lake but the broad fast-moving Snake presented new challenges. The rapids broadsided and swamped me almost immediately so I dragged the boat to shore, drained it with help, and got back in, vowing to pay better attention. (Jenna is cringing as she reads this because I don't know any paddling lingo.)

And I thought about rudimentary bike skills and how applicable they are to other sports. I don't know shit about boating but I know how to look forward, take a dynamic stance, widen my knees and arms, and engage my core. I consciously hit oncoming rapids on the perpendicular and pumped over waves like they were bumps on a trail. Do kayakers call it pumping? Probably not. But I started riding the water like singletrack with better form than I usually have on the bike (familiarity breeds laziness) and suddenly I was having a blast! I started figuring out which paddle motions were more effective and chasing down the little white riffles that meant interesting water. I kayaked the rest of the way while everyone else got chilly in their boats and I was sad to see the Hwy 22 bridge that indicated the take-out. We had traveled fifteen miles and somehow it was already almost 7:00.
Pic courtesy of Andrea
Then we all grilled out and lounged in hammocks and listened to 90's music and ate birthday cake. A great day. I'm not going to start floating all the time but I was pleasantly surprised that what I assumed would be a sedentary day was an active outing that left me crippled with soreness the next day. Win!
Hammock life
Pic courtesy of Andrea